At the Rogers Cup in Toronto, the 19-year-old Greek had become the youngest player to beat four Top 10 players at an event since the ATP Tour began in 1990. But his streak stopped against Nadal, who spoiled Tsitsipas’ 20th birthday by winning his 33rd ATP Masters 1000 title.
“Bust my ass more on the court. Work more hours and become stronger and a more solid baseliner. And withstand pressures, physical pressures on the court that, to him, just seem like nothing special. That’s the big difference between my game and his game,” Tsitsipas said.
In 2019, he wouldn’t have to wait long to see if the plan had worked.
Australian Open, SF, Nadal d. Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4, 6-0
The two renewed their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in Melbourne. Tsitsipas had beaten Roger Federer in the fourth round and persevered in five sets against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarter-finals to make his first Grand Slam semi-final.
Nadal, meanwhile, had revamped his serve in the off-season and had yet to drop a set en route to the last four at the season’s first Slam. The offensive onslaught continued against Tsitsipas as Nadal rolled into his 25th major championship final by winning 80 per cent (49/61) of his service points and hitting 28 winners. Nadal also won the final nine games.
“I have been playing well during the whole event. Every match, more or less, I think I did a lot of things well. Tonight was another one. I played solid – with my serve, playing aggressive. Probably the backhand was better today than the rest of the days,” Nadal said.
A devastated Tsitsipas struggled to find reasons for optimism in their rivalry. “Honestly, I have no idea what I can take from that match,” he said. “It’s not that I was even close to [getting] something. I only got six games from that match.”
Mutua Madrid Open, SF, Tsitsipas d. Nadal 6-4, 2-6, 6-3
But the Greek would have his moment to cherish against Nadal on the most unlikeliest of surfaces: clay, where Nadal has won more titles than anyone in history. In Madrid, the Spaniard was still working his way into top form on the red dirt. Nadal had fallen in the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, both tournaments he has won 11 times.
Tsitsipas, however, was bloated with confidence, having won his third ATP Tour title – and first on clay – at the Millennium Estoril Open (d. Cuevas) the week earlier.
Nadal had held in 26 of his 27 service games to reach the Masters 1000 semi-final, but Tsitsipas broke three times in the opening set alone to grab the lead. Nadal increasingly ran around his backhand to see more forehands in the second set and rallied to force a decider.
Tsitsipas Stuns Nadal To Reach Madrid Final
But in the third set, Tsitsipas continued to attack and step into the court, and he broke for the third time in the set to beat Nadal for the first time. Overall, Tsitsipas broke the Spaniard six times and saved 11 of 16 break points faced.
“You cannot imagine the relief. It’s unbelievable. I don’t want to say this, but it almost felt like I lost hope at some point. [I lost] three in a row [against him],” Tsitsipas said. “I felt in Toronto when I played him I was very close, and this match gave me a bit of confidence [that] I can do it in the future, but then it was too much. [I’m] really happy that I overcame this and dealt with it mentally. Beating him on clay makes it even more special.”
Watch Highlights: Tsitsipas Stuns Nadal In Madrid SF
Internazionali BNL d’Italia, SF, Nadal d. Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4
In Rome, the surface was the same, but Tsitsipas stared down a much different Nadal. The Spaniard, after much speculation from fans and pundits, had found his top level on the clay. Before meeting Tsitsipas in another Masters 1000 semi-final, Nadal had won his past six sets 6-0, 6-1, 6-1, 6-0, 6-4, 6-0.
The Greek would do better than Nadal’s prior opponents in the Italian capital, but he couldn’t replicate his Madrid magic. In slower conditions, Nadal broke twice and saved both break points to make the Rome final, where he beat Djokovic for his 34th Masters 1000 title.
Nitto ATP Finals, Group Andre Agassi, Nadal d. Tsitsipas 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5
The two had one final meeting in store for fans, and it might have been their best of the year. At the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals, Nadal was fighting to have a chance at the semi-finals, and Tsitsipas was trying to end Group Andre Agassi play unbeaten.
Tsitsipas eked out a tight opening set by snagging a mini-break at 4/4 and closing out the set with an ace. But Nadal grew more comfortable in the second set and broke in the ninth game before serving it out. The Spaniard hit 11 winners to only six unforced errors and won 80 per cent of his service points (20/25) in the second set.
Tsitsipas ripped back momentum early in the third and would save four break points as The O2 crowd clamoured for more drama. But, serving at 6-5, he nudged a backhand volley wide, and Nadal broke for only the second time in the match.
Nadal vs. Tsitsipas In 2019